NASSAU COUNTY, Fla. – The former Nassau County budget director who was fired over missing funds is now speaking out, saying he was actually fired for refusing to delete text messages he claims are public records.
Justin Stankiewicz was fired in December after being put on administrative leave when $1,000 disappeared from the county safe.
Stankiewicz says he did not take any money and that there was no investigation into missing money until he refused to delete text messages regarding the company Rayonier.
Stankiewicz says the man who told him to delete the texts was Mike Mullin, the county manager and county attorney.
"I would never take or misappropriate funds," Stankiewicz said. "I think I was fired for doing the right thing. I was asked by Mr. Mullen, the county manager and county attorney, to delete public records on Nov. 6 and when I refused it was very clear to me that his behavior toward me changed and that was when I was terminated."
Stankiewicz was placed on leave after the county found $1,000 missing. But Stankiewicz said he wasn't fired until after he refused to delete text messages that were related to county business.
Mullin told News4Jax on Tuesday that he fired Stankiewicz over $1,000 missing from a safe to which Stankiewicz had the code.
"I didn’t have that trust anymore because we couldn’t come to a conclusion about the $1,000. None of it made sense," Mullin said.
Mullin denied he told Stankiewicz to delete any texts.
"I’ve never done that. I’ve never told him that. That’s a categorical lie," Mullin said.
Stankiewicz said the texts he was asked to delete show discussion among county leaders about Rayonier, one of the county's largest landowners.
"I think the public has the right and the need to know what’s going on with your local government," Stankiewicz said. "As an attorney, Mike is very aware of what the law states and what his responsibilities are and he chose not to comply with that law."
In one of the texts, Mullin used a middle finger emoji in reference to Rayonier.
Asked about that, Mullin said, "I'm not very good at that."
"As I recall, I typically would put the thumbs up ... emoji. I may have hit that. If I did, it’s just one of those things," Mullin said.
Rayonier has filed a lawsuit against the county, which is why Rayonier’s attorney requested all documents and text messages from the county in the first place. The county responded that no text messages existed.
Asked about texts messages surfacing after the company was told none existed, Rayonier sent a statement.
"Rayonier will decide a course of action soon. They are disappointed in the behavior of the county members and say it’s not something you would expect from professionals running the county," the company wrote.
As to whether the texts are public record or not, Jacksonville attorney Rhonda Peoples-Waters, who has no connection to this case, said she does not believe they would be public records because the texts were on personal devices and were not (used to make) any decision for the county. However, it would be up to a judge's discretion if Rayonier were to take this to court.
Stankiewicz was making about $116,000 a year at the time he was fired. He said he paid back the $1,000 with his personal money and said he never took any funds from the county.